Customized 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible A One-Off Beauty

PLEASANT VALLEY, CT – Styling-wise, Chevrolet cars designed and built for the 1953 and 1954 model years were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. They were decidedly less flashy than the memorable “Tri-Five” offerings of the 1955, ’56 and ’57 model years that followed, providing Jim Fenn of Pleasant Valley with incentive to make his 1954 Bel Air convertible stand out.

 Fenn used his imagination to mildly customize the classic car that he acquired in 1999. He added extra “teeth” to the grill, expanded the fender skirts that cover the rear wheels, “nosed” the hood and “Frenched” the headlights and antenna. It already came with a Continental kit.

The result is a Chevy that still looks familiar yet unique.

Jim Fenn and his 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air

“I love convertibles and I love the lines on that ’54 Chevy, and I was looking hard for one and it kind of fell in my lap,” Fenn said last fall. “A friend of mine had it. He stopped driving it and put it in storage for about six years and I bought it from him.”

Fenn has owned about a dozen ragtops over the years.

“I had a convertible when I was in high school and I never stopped,“ he said. His first car may have been a 1954 DeSoto hardtop, but his third car was a 1956 Ford convertible. In addition to the Bel Air, he also currently owns a 1942 Ford convertible, which got a body-off restoration, and a 1950 Ford F1 pickup.

It took Fenn some three years to restore the Bel Air to what it looks like today.

“I had to do everything to it. It was a running car, but it needed new floors. It had a lot of rust underneath it. The frame was good, but I replaced all the floors and a bunch of other things; body mounts, for instance. I’ve changed the engine over the years and the transmission. Paint job. Upholstery. Pretty much everything.” he said.

“When I got the car it was blue, robin’s egg blue. Hated the color,” so the Bel Air got repainted sea foam green. “I always kind of liked that color. It’s a pastel from the ’50s and that’s why I like it.”

See the 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air in action in this YouTube video…

Fenn dropped in a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 engine that he thinks came from a 1974 Chevrolet Camaro. “It’s pretty much a bone stock engine other than dual exhausts, Tri-Power and a couple other minor things. It’s nothing special,” he said.

What is special are the exterior alterations. On the front of the chrome grill, Fenn positioned nine vertical “teeth,” four more than the 1954 Bel Air came with from the factory and six more than the 1953 model had. It makes the front more noticeable and a bit menacing. He also nosed the hood; that is, removed the hood ornament.    


The headlights and antenna for the radio got “Frenched,” recessed in the body. “The hood has been peaked. What that means is I welded in a strip of metal that came off a front fender and made it one piece instead of two pieces, which is what it was originally,” Fenn said.

The rear wheels were given expanded fender skirts. “I extended ’em an inch and a half lower because the original fender skirts really didn’t fit the body even though they were made for it. But they didn’t look like they were right for the car.”

All of the changes make the Bel Air stand out. “It’s kind of a rare car. You never see them anymore. I’ve had a lot of offers. People wanted to buy that car a number of times. I won’t say how much I’ve been offered but it’s a lot more than I figure the car is worth,” Fenn said.

In addition to collecting old four-wheeled vehicles, he also has four old Harley-Davidson motorcycles –  a 1934 VLD, a 1954 FL, a 1968 FLH and a 1979 FLH. 

Fenn drives the Bel Air to car shows and to restaurants. “I drive it all the time. It’s my favorite car,” he said, but he probably uses the 1950 Ford F1 more frequently. “I take my stuff to the dump in it. I use it as a truck but I don’t abuse it.”

The same can be said for every model in his collection.

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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